The windows of our bedrooms face due east so we get the sunrise every day. As much a sunrise as you can get in the middle of the city. Which, actually, has its own special magic…at least to me. Rays of light suddenly bursting into being like so many bright yellow arms reaching around towers of concrete, all at once being reflected and fractured and reflected again, like a beam going through a thousand prisms, against the steel and glass of the stalwart urban sentinels I call my neighbors.
I love the dawn. Even if, despite all my best efforts and intentions, I am still not naturally a morning person. I struggle to wake up, greedily and groggily clinging to the last vestiges of my slumber. I try vainly to develop and internal body clock. To date, much to my frustration, it hasn’t kicked in. Perhaps that’s why I love having the morning’s new light creep through my bedroom shades, its fingers coaxing me out from under the covers.
Dawn, unlike any other time of the day, is filled with such golden promise. Old melancholies fade away and new potential beckons. It is that short, sweet, moment that light has resolutely claimed from darkness, but in which the whisper and allure of dreams still somehow hold subtle sway. In the calm before the clamor of the rest of the world crashes in, you can hear the voices that tell you to believe in what lies in the deepest places of your heart, and in that magic hush anything is possible.
This dish is not something I would typically associate with the dawn, but it is a great comfort food. A hot bowl of this, scooped over a generous serving of rice, can put me in the same calm place.
Munggo with Gata and Kalabasa
(mung beans with coconut milk and squash)
- 200 grams munggo (mung beans)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 red onions, peeled, one chopped and one quartered
- 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
- Canola oil (or any other mildly flavored vegetable oil)
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup hibe (small dried shrimp)
- 400 ml coconut milk
- 450 gram wedge of squash, peeled and chopped into about 1-inch cubes (350 grams, cut weight)
- 1 bunch malunggay (moringa), leaves picked (yields about 2 cups leaves)
- 1/2 – 1 tablespoon patis (fish sauce)
- Rinse munggo and pick through for little stones. After I check for stones I like to rinse the beans through a sieve to get rid of any dirt.
- Place munggo, bay leaf, the quartered onion, and the ginger in a saucepan or pot that will hold double its volume. Cover with cool water until about 2 inches above the beans. Set pot on medium heat, cover, and cook until beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes – 1 hour (depending on how old your beans are). Check occasionally and stir to make sure it is not drying out and sticking. If it seems to be drying out just add more water. Once the beans are soft, set aside. At this point the level of liquid should be just at the same level as the beans.
- Heat a kawali (wok) or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add a few swirls of canola oil and, when hot, add the chopped onion and garlic. Sautee, stirring, until the onion is soft and transluscent. Add the hibe and keep sautéing until the shrimp is coated in the oil and takes on a little moisture. Add the cooked munggo and its liquid, the coconut milk, and the squash. Turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is softened. Add the malunggay leaves and cook for about 15 minutes more.
- Season to taste with the patis (fish sauce). You may need less or more depending on how salty you hibe is. Give it a final stir and take off the heat.
- Serve hot with lots of steamed rice.
I love munggo. I also love coconut milk. The two together work brilliantly. The coconut milk’s silky creaminess is perfect with the munggo’s earthiness. The hibe and the fish sauce give it a rounded savory depth that salt would not be able to replicate. If you can’t find hibe where you are, just adjust the seasoning with a bit more fish sauce. If you can't find malunggay you can use sweet potato leaves or, failing that, spinach. Between the munggo, malunggay, and the squash, this is not only deliciously comforting, but highly nutritious as well. If I weren’t feeding a little one, I also would throw in a couple of green finger chilis (sili pangsigang) to the pot.
I’ve been working on training my body clock to rise “with the sun”. I love those days that I am able to. I sit at my desk, an espresso with steamed milk at my side, its aroma waking my senses up. I raise the shades to let in the new morning. My family is sleeping and the streets below my window have yet to fill with their usual bustle. I hear my dreams whisper to me and, because it is so quiet, I listen in ways I cannot during the rest of the day. And I whisper back.